By Jeffrey V. Smith
Black Cube, a non-profit experimental art museum operating nomadically, has chosen Gold Hill as the setting of its next pop-up exhibition. The Gold Hill Art Project, Aug. 6-Sept. 5, brings together a series of site-specific contemporary art installations situated in cabins and open spaces in the historic mining town for an open-air museum that’s free and open to the public. Three Black Cube artist fellows–Molly Berger, Jennifer Ling Datchuk and Eric Stewart–created new works responding to local history and surrounding landscape.
“Black Cube is a nomadic contemporary art museum, meaning that we produce artworks at unique locations that provide context for the artwork and offer visitors to think about that place anew,” Black Cube Director Cortney Stell said. “Black Cube is excited to look at this historic mining town through the lens of contemporary art. Hopefully this month-long exhibition will provide an opportunity to bring new visitors to town and engage the locals with meaningful experiences.”
Gold Hill resident Laurie Britton Newell is the guest curator for the project, and is working with the group for the first time. “I presented Black Cube’s director with the idea of doing a project in Gold Hill two years ago, and was very excited when she decided to work with me,” Newell said. “Black Cube… brings art to audiences in unexpected places. I don’t think many organizations have attempted to situate contemporary art in a historic mining town before. It is brave!”
Originally from London, Newell moved with her family to Gold Hill in 2014 after first landing in Boulder. “It felt strange to live down in Boulder so close the mountains, but not be in them,” she said. “I think Boulder also felt quite suburban after London. We had a friend who lived in Gold Hill, so we got introduced to the town through him, and we were impressed by how close knit the community is here. We were also attracted to the ruggedness of mountain life and the authenticity of the old buildings in Gold Hill. The amazing Gold Hill School was a big deciding factor in why we moved here, too. Growing up in the mountains is a wonderful childhood for our two kids.”
Newell is no stranger to the art world. She was curator of contemporary art and design for 10 years at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design.
“My mind quite naturally jumped to imagining how to situate contemporary artworks in a historic mining town, and in a way they are quite similar types of ‘spaces.’ I think it is very enriching to pair the old and new side by side, it can offer new ways of looking at both the past and the present. History lies very close to the surface in Gold Hill. The marks of mining are still very visible in the contours of the land and the shift over from being a mining community to being a tourist destination in the early 19th Century is also visible in the buildings that have been preserved.”
Berger, Datchuk and Stewart have each created an installation situated in different locations in and around the center of Gold Hill. The sites have been chosen by the artists in consultation with residents and property owners. According to Newell, the locations have been chosen because they “resonate with the artworks in interesting ways.” The spaces include a historic cabin, a triangle of land between two roads and a plot of land with a wooded area and test mine pit. Each of the artists spent time in Gold Hill and met and interviewed residents in order to produce artworks that are inspired by the place.
“The artists were chosen because the themes they address in their work pairs interestingly with Gold Hill and it’s history,” Newell explained. “Eric Stewart is interested in documenting the landscape of the American West and how it has been shaped by man-made inventions and interventions.” He created a series of photograms made without a camera by exposing local minerals, including gold, quartz and mica, directly onto the surface of film.
“Jennifer is pre-occupied with her dual Chinese American heritage in her work, Newell said, “and so I was interested to see how she would interpret the history of Chinese involvement in the Gold Rush in Colorado.” Her installation is positioned near the site where a Chinese laundry and bathhouse is reported to have stood in the late 19th Century.
Berger was moved by the way she was welcomed into residents homes, and that they shared intimate life events with her. She created a series of porcelain and gold sculptures inspired by mining tools and objects from domestic life and stitched a collection of statements from conversations with residents into doormats. “Molly’s work explores ideas of memory and nostalgia and how we collect and store memories in connection with objects. I was interested to see how she would work with the community of Gold Hill and translate personal and collective memories from the town,” Newell explained.
The Gold Hill Project opens with a launch party at 5 p.m., Aug. 6, at the Black Cube tent in Kirby’s Field. Public hours are Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. Free events and workshops, including ceramics, pinhole-camera photography and outdoor film screenings, take place Aug. 14, 21, 28 and Sept. 4. Pre-registration online is required.
“I am excited, and hopeful, visitors will have a very unique and memorable encounter with the artworks, the town… and surrounding landscape,” Newell said.
The Black Cube tent is located at 491 College St. in Gold Hill. Visit www.blackcubeart.org/exhibition/gold-hill-art-project for additional details.
Photos courtesy Black Cube